The Withered Vine
James Smith, 1860
"Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine!" Psalm 80:14
The Church of Christ passes through many vicissitudes, and requires constant attention; therefore it is compared to a garden, a vineyard, and a vine. As a vine, it sometimes flourishes and brings forth fruit; while at other times it appears withered, unsightly, and barren. It was in such a state, when Asaph prayed for it, and said, "Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine!" Such a prayer, appears to be suitable to the state of the Church at this time. May the Lord give us grace to adopt it, and use it at his throne. In order to induce us to do so, let us notice,
The Figure. The Church is God's vine. This figure represents its natural weakness, its dependence, its beauty, and its fruitfulness. What is weaker than a vine? What is more dependent? What more beautiful? Or, what more fruitful? Just so, the church of Christ is weak. It is absolutely dependent upon Christ. It wears the beauty of holiness. It brings forth the fruits of the Spirit. As the vine is made up of many branches, all of which are in union with, and supplied by one stem — so the Church has many members — but all are in union with, and are supported by Christ.
The vine now appears to be in a sickly withering state, it needs the reviving showers, the strengthening sunbeams, and the reviving southern breezes. Just so, the Church of Jesus needs the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the shining of the sun of righteousness, and the gales of grace from the everlasting hills. Hence,
The Petition. "Return to us, O God Almighty!" The Lord was angry, and had retired to his place. The vine, for a time appeared left to itself, The effects of this were soon seen and felt. Restoration was now ardently desired. "Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine!" God's vine is on earth — but its keeper and resources are in heaven! Lord, behold the affliction of your people, the desire felt for a revival, and the absolute necessity there is for your assistance. A look from heaven will quicken, revive, and benefit the Church. Nor only so, a look will lead to more, for if he looks — he will visit; and if he visits — he will dig about it, fertilize it, prune it, and make it healthy — then it will grow, become ornamental, and fruitful.
Observe, the help of the Church is in heaven. God alone can cause his Church to prosper, thrive, and become fruitful. Before deliverence and restoration — there must be prayer; and a spirit of prayer, generally indicates that the Lord is about to appear and revive his cause. The prayer we are considering, may be taken as a model prayer; it is hearty, pathetic, consistent, united — one pleads for the many.
It is a prayer just suited to us. We need the Lord's quickening look, his reviving visit. But do we feel our need of it? Do we heartily desire it? Shall we unite to pray for it? O that the Lord's people in every place, would unite as one man, to plead with God, and persevere in prayer, crying from the heart in reference to the whole Church, and each distinct portion of it, "Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine!" In so doing we would manifest our sympathy with Jesus, and draw down blessings upon ourselves. For it is impossible to be engaged in praying for the church of God, without obtaining blessings from God; and intercessory prayer is especially acceptable to the Lord Almighty.
If we prayed more — we would sin less. If we prayed more — we would suffer less. If we prayed more — we would doubt and fear less. In prayer, we become intimate with God, rise above our trials and troubles, become a match for our foes, and are enabled to overcome the various assaults of Satan.
Holy Father, send down the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of prayer into our hearts, to produce in us sympathy with your Church, pity for perishing sinners, and to help our infirmities!
Gracious Spirit, who inspired prayer in the hearts of the saints of old — inspire prayer in our hearts; prayer that shall be acceptable to God, prayer that shall have power with God, prayer that shall prevail to bring down needed blessings from God. Lord Jesus, ask the Father for us, that he way send the Comforter to us, to fill us with faith, love, and fervent prayer!